The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bangla govt relents, calls for poll changes

Dhaka, Dec. 4 (Reuters): Bangladesh’s interim government announced today key changes to the supervision of next month’s parliamentary polls after rival political groups exchanged gunfire that killed three and wounded 50.

The interim government, seeking to cool boiling tempers between the country’s rancorous political alliances, asked the election commission to set a new election date and clean up the rolls of voters.

That was a key demand of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, the Opposition party for the past five years, which has organised a transport blockade that has paralysed the country the past two days.

The gunbattle between Awami League supporters and Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party — whose five-year term expired in October — raged for an hour on Maheshkhali island, 350 km southeast of Dhaka, said senior administrative officer Aminul Islam.

An interim administration that is running the country during the election period to ensure poll impartiality, asked the election commission to announce a new polling schedule and purge fraudulent names from the lists of voters, said Mahbubul Alam, the interim head of the information ministry.

The commission earlier set the voting date for January 21, the last day for filing nominations on December 10 and withdrawal of applications on December 19.

“The interim authority also decided to shuffle some senior government officials to further neutralise the administration ahead of the election,” Alam said.

“We have also discussed restructuring of the election commission,” he said without giving details. An overhaul of the elections commission was another key Awami demand.

The suggested steps — most of which are to be implemented by the election commission — are expected to resolve the country’s political stalemate, officials and analysts said.

“In the wake of the decisions, we now hope the (14-party) alliance will withdraw the blockade and take immediate steps to normalise the people's life,” Alam said.

The latest violence came as US deputy assistant secretary of the state department for South Asian affairs, John A. Gastright, held talks with government officials on the political situation.

“We offered our strong support to the caretaker government in its efforts to move forward with a free, fair and non-violent election,” he said after meeting foreign secretary Hemayetuddin at the start of a two-day trip.

The caretaker government headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed has held talks with leaders of the rival parties to resolve the stalemate.

Khaleda handed over power to the caretaker authority at the end of her term in late October. The constitution dictates a general election must be held within three months of the change over.

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